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Based on two studies in nonverbal communication with his colleagues in 1967, Dr. Albert Mehrabian presented that 93% of our daily communication is nonverbal. In most cases, the Mehrabian formula is often oversimplified, however, the more precise representation of his findings would state that 7% of our daily communication consists of message relating to feelings and attitudes is in words that are spoken; 33% of the message is paralinguistic- the way the words are said; and the remaining 55% of message regarding feelings and attitudes is in facial expressions (Chapman, Businessballs.com). Nonverbal communication is simply communicating with other people without the usage of words, mostly through facial expressions, body language and eye contact. As we interact with people on a regular basis, we might not realize that we use as much nonverbal communication as we do verbally; sometimes even more. This is because the unique aspect of nonverbal communication is that the signals are sent and received spontaneously; are universal and these signals occur simultaneously (Remland, 2009). Nonverbal communication cannot be acquired by just reading books or articles. In order to understand and respond to communicating without words, one must be able to read nonverbal communication codes like personal space, gaze, touch, facial expression, posture, gestures, and tone of voice during interactions. These codes which can also be referred to as channels of nonverbal messages consist of body messages, facial messages, eye messages, spatial messages, artifactual messages, paralanguage messages, and silence messages, to name a few (DeVito, 2011). There is no doubt that nonverbal communication comprises of a variety of codes and signals. The question is, 'Why is the knowledge of nonverbal communication important in our daily lives?'
The importance of nonverbal communication
"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said," as quoted by Peter Drucker (1909-2005), nonverbal communication serves to regulate interactions in our daily lives and also in structuring conversations with people. The primary function of nonverbal communication would be to assist in delivering verbal messages so as to develop better understanding when explaining and receive information. We could become better verbal communicators with in-depth knowledge of nonverbal communication codes. When you are in a discussion group, you give and receive cues on whether it is your turn to speak or it is the turn of the other members to give opinions (DeVito, 2011). These turn-taking cues are mostly nonverbal, for example, a nod in the head to display that you understand; a show of hand gesture to signal your group member to speak; and silence after a long sentence to inform the others that you are ready to listen to their point of view. On top of that, nonverbal communication is also important to express and further elevate the message delivering process. A public speaker would incorporate hand gestures in his speech as to make it interesting and to capture the attention of the audience. Not only that, he would also add in vocal intonations and well-timed pauses. A positive body language by the speaker would give an impression to the audience that he is well-prepared and confident. Even in our daily lives, we use nonverbal signs in our communication to help in interpreting verbal aspects. For example, when giving directions, we tend to use arm movements to explain the right path to a destination and it helps the person we are interacting with to understand better. Without realizing it, we also unconsciously display facial expressions and hand gestures when we are engrossed in a conversation on the phone. We show an excited face with a wide smile upon receiving happy news and describe objects using our fingers by them imaginarily. Hence, the knowledge of nonverbal communication is important to help in delivering verbal messages.
Other than that, it is important for us to acquire the knowledge of nonverbal communication as it has a significant role in providing and signaling the identity of a person. It is an inevitable fact that all individuals have their own distinct identity. We are able to recognize the differences between men and women because of the nonverbal codes they exhibit, for instance; the way they dress, the way they walk, and sometimes also by the way they talk. Apart from gender comparison, the identity of a person can also be identified by facial features, body shape, voice and others. These nonverbal codes convey different meanings and form various impressions on people in our daily lives. A few obvious examples on identification in nonverbal communication context would be on authority, status or position, culture and occupation. By acknowledging the nonverbal signals by a community of people, we are able to distinguish each and every one of them based on their facial appearance and clothing. A person with authority, like a boss of a multinational company, would most likely be seen wearing a business suit and carries a serious face, whereas a person who works as a clown, wears a colorful outfit with an excited face. In addition to that, if we were to meet someone who has a favorable face, often smiling and makes funny faces; we can identify that particular person as a comedian because his or her actions tend to attract our attention. Likewise, when we see a person with crossed arms wearing a uniform with badges, without further thinking, we are able to recognize that person as a policeman. It can be seen that Americans greet each other with smiles and handshakes whilst in Korean families; they greet each other by bowing as a sign of respect and mannerism. It is fundamental for everyone to be able to read these nonverbal communication signals so as to identify identities of different people and respond appropriately. Upon recognizing someone who is of higher position, we respect. When in acquaintance of a comedian, we laugh and smile. Therefore, it is important for us to know of nonverbal communication in our daily lives as means of identification.
Moreover, the knowledge of nonverbal communication is also important in our daily lives to establish and define relationships. We display our feelings to other people mostly through nonverbal signals. During interaction, we tend to express our feelings nonverbally according to the people we are talking to. If we were to talk to someone of a higher status, we use lower eye contact, stand at a certain distance from that person, and maintain a steady mood to form a professional relationship. In workplace, we also use nonverbal signs to communicate on matters regarding dominance and status. The person with higher status will be given an office while the person with lower status sits in a small cubicle at the corner. On the other hand, in an intimate relationship with your partner, you might lean closer to talk, smile more, and might be able to understand each other even without communicating verbally. This forms a relationship of trust that has a high degree of nonverbal involvement. Holding hands, looking longingly into each other's eyes, and even dressing alike are ways affection and closeness are shown in interpersonal relationships (DeVito, 2011). On the contrary, nonverbal communication might form negative impacts on relationships because of misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Many people send confusing or negative nonverbal signals without even realizing it, and when this happens; both trust and connection are damaged (Segal et al., 2012). For example, Jean gets along with her friends at college, but not to some who find her arrogant. Rather than looking at you, Jean has a habit of staring at you and smirking. Jean is a friendly girl, but has a hard time being in sync with people around her. If only they knew her action was only a habit and it was a misunderstanding. Negative impacts on relationships form negative nonverbal signals like eye avoidance, annoyed faces, prolonged silence and many more. We must be aware of the nonverbal signals we send out to people and also be mindful to not over-analyze the signals we receive. Hence, it is important to understand how to use and interpret nonverbal signals.
Last but not least, the knowledge of nonverbal communication is important in our daily lives to express emotions. It can be said that voice quality contributes greatly to the expressiveness of human speech (Gobl, 2003, p.192). Voice quality also signals the listener not only information on such strong emotions, but also milder states, which are known to us as feelings and moods. The voice quality of a person gives an insight on the person's attitude to the subject matter and the situation. The tone of voice, which is one of the channels of nonverbal communication, shows what type of emotion a person is going through. When a person is in a panic state, his speech would be of higher pitch, is louder and faster. While for a person who is sad or depressed, he exhibits a low tone voice with long pauses and numerous sighs. It is therefore vital for us to be able to identify these different tones of voice so that we would be able to understand and interpret the emotions during interaction with people. Not only that, the posture or gestures of a person can tell us what emotions they are feeling. Angry movements can be seen by speedy and stiff actions as to contrast the weak body posture and slow reactions of a sad person. People around the world use gestures to convey particular emotions. For example, a girl covers her face with her hands when she is embarrassed; a football player jumps in joy after scoring a goal; and a man punches the wall with his fist when he is angry. Though we could use a variety of gestures to express emotions, it is also important that we acknowledge the different meanings of the gestures as known by different cultures. Some gestures might seem to give a positive remark in a certain culture, but it might be offensive to another. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the different meanings of the gestures we use in our daily lives by increasing our knowledge on nonverbal communication.
To conclude, the knowledge of nonverbal communication is important in our daily lives because of the functions that benefit us when we interact with one another. The first importance of nonverbal communication would be to assist us in delivering verbal messages as well as becoming a better verbal communicator. Nonverbal communication codes can be integrated with verbal messages to deliver a more meaningful conversation. Not only that, by learning nonverbal communication, it enables us to identify and recognize the different identities of the people around us. This is so that we can respond appropriately when conversing with them. Moreover, we could also establish relationships with people by understanding the nonverbal communication codes in our daily lives. We are able to react and respond using nonverbal signals during interactions with them. It is also important that we know of nonverbal communication so that we can express and interpret emotions. Nonverbal signs give us the advantage to read the emotions of the people we meet on a regular basis, and in some cases, make us realize that we display our emotions using gestures and facial expressions unconsciously most of the time. Hence, with the knowledge of nonverbal communication, we are able to control and be mindful of the nonverbal signals we convey in our interactions as to form better relationships and acquaintances in the future.